With a nationwide roll-out of brasseries and cafés in the pipeline, the Ivy Collection is set to make an indelible mark on the restaurant scene. Tom Vaughan talks to executive director of operations Yishay Malkov and director of people Janene Pretorius to find out more
What are the plans for the Ivy Collection for the rest of this year and the next?
Janene Pretorius: By the end of this year we will have opened 12 new sites.
With such a quick expansion, was there ever a danger that you felt you might water down what is a very cherished brand in the Ivy?
YM: Absolutely. It's still the one thing in the front of our minds: how do we safeguard this amazing, 100-year-old, beautiful piece of jewellery? I guess our most dangerous moment was the first new site, the Market Grill in Covent Garden [in 2014]. I'm not saying it was make or break, but we were definitely asking, are we going to do it justice? After Covent Garden and then Chelsea opened [in 2015], we began to see that regulars at the mothership had accepted us and there wasn't a feeling that we'd dropped the ball in a massive way. The next step was seeing whether we could do it without all the bells and whistles when we opened Marylebone, which we did. From then on, we took it one at a time and made sure to stay true to the Ivy as a heritage brand.
You categorise your sites into Ivy Cafés and Ivy Brasseries. What is the difference and do diners make a distinction between the two?
YM: I think it's evolved with us. There are differences between them, but the backbone is the same. When we opened, we thought the cafés might be a simpler version of the brasseries in their offerings, but from week one, we knew that wouldn't be the case because the expectations were exactly the same. The difference is in how the guests feel about it. Ivy Cafés feel more local and part of that is also to do with the physical size of the premises.
Why not give them all the same name?
YM: If everything was called the Ivy Brasserie, we wouldn't be where we are today. For example, in Edinburgh, we're opening a brasserie but it's on the square, so it's called Ivy on the Square. Part of it is to ensure every place looks a bit different and feels a bit different, so sometimes the name is slightly different. We are running away from that chain thing, which we knew at some point could knock on our door.
How do you identify locations for new sites. Are you led by the sites or by the cities?
YM: Without a doubt the location. Richard [Caring, owner of the Ivy Collection] was adamant that if we were going to expand, then we needed to not just be resourced for it, but be over-resourced for it. From the start, we had a team of seven people taking care of property. That is uncommon for a company as small as we were. In fact, it's pretty unheard of in our industry. Their sole purpose is to drive around the UK and find the right sites. In hindsight, there was probably no other way for us to grow as quickly as we want to without that team.
Few premium restaurant brands have expanded outside of London. Is it a risk?
YM: It could be seen as a gamble, but we don't see it that way. It sounds corny, but if it's the right product at the right price and the right place, it will work. So far, we feel quite confident about it. Maybe a year ago to 18 months ago, I'd be wary of telling you all the places we were planning to expand, because I didn't know whether it would work. These days, I know it's going to work. We have a formula that works and we're happy to take calculated risks with it.
What's the DNA of the Ivy cafés and brasseries that makes them suitable for towns outside London?
YM: I think we've found some sort of formula that is a throwback to proper old-school hospitality. There is something comforting about it; I think people are longing for it. The tablecloths and the waiter that is not your mate, and the cutlery that feels solid in your hands and a menu that gives you what it says. When it says chicken, you actually get a chicken, not something that makes you think: "Did I order this?" The ability to fulfil a lot of needs throughout the day for different people but to still feel special is what, I think, sets us apart.
To deliver the Ivy's old-school hospitality, you need the right staff and the right level of training. Are you confident in finding that outside of London?
JP: It becomes a bigger challenge once you move outside London, but I think we're unique in that we do invest a lot of our people in training. As long as you can find the right attitudes, we can train them in hospitality and serving, and we take them on a journey with us. Equally, it means we can give new opportunities to our existing teams and take them outside London. A lot of them came to London as students and are going back to where their roots are. We give them room to grow with us and develop.
What makes Ivy Collection training stand out?
JP: These days, it's a lot of blended learning and e-learning, but we still do the old-school hospitality - training them practically. From day one, we spend probably two hours just instilling the culture and the history. Before we open a restaurant, we spend two weeks going through the service, going through the standards, giving them all the knowledge we can possibly give them, so that when we open the door, they're confident and they know exactly what goes where.
YM: We made a conscious decision from the beginning to start preparations a lot earlier than maybe others do and to spend a lot more money than maybe some others do. I've never started preparing so early, but without a doubt, it has got us to where we are now. We want to get to day one so that you walk through the door and say: "Oh, I think this has been here for a while. I wonder why I haven't seen it?"
What are the unique challenges from a personnel and staffing perspective?
JP: It's getting tougher to find the right people as we grow. One team for us is, on average, 90-120 front of house and 50-60 back of house. Probably the biggest challenge, which I think everybody in the industry is facing, is finding good staff. We're going to have to extend our training and take that raw talent and turn it into the experience we need on the floor.
How much do your price points change by location - especially outside London?
YM: Well, pricing is obviously something that we are acutely aware of. We do have different products, so we don't have exactly the same menu everywhere. But if you look at what we call the net spend per head, we expect that to stay very stable across the country. We feel the menu gives value for money at a certain price point that is important for us to keep. We can't compete with Côte and its price bracket. It's important that we operate in a sort of a sweet spot that says: "I'm happy to pay that." And it's equally important that we don't go up or down from that - we are not going to have half price in Scotland or double the price in Chelsea.
Has the Noughties' cult of individual chefs been replaced by the cult of the brand?
YM: There's definitely been a massive shift away from individuals such as Jamie and Gordon. A brand is a lot more transferable and versatile - a brand means different things to different people, whereas a single persona has less room for interpretation. And the emotions attached to a person, as opposed to a brand, are different. We are quick to build people up and then we love to see them crash. We're easy to react and they are big targets who are easy to punch. A brand is less so.
What's the Ivy Collection's potential?
YM: It's tough to say. I know I'm weaselling out, but we are yet to understand our limits. Is this a 400-site kind of thing? Of course not. But when we did this initially, we thought we could never do more than 15 nationwide - and there are already 12 and more in the pipeline. So the limit is higher than we initially thought, but I live from one week to the next.
May 2014-present Executive director of operations, the Ivy Collection
February 2013-May 2014 General manager, Roka Restaurants
March 2011-February 2013 Owner, Bertie restaurant, Tel Aviv
July 2010-March 2011 F&B consultant, Mamilla Hotel, Jerusalem
June 2003-July 2010 Restaurant director, Gordon Ramsay Holdings
February 2017-present Director of people, the Ivy Collection
April 2012-December 2016 Training and HR director, Prezzo
February 2003-Apr 2012 Head of staff training and development, Gaucho
The Ivy Collection
The Ivy Market Grill, London
Opened November 2014
The Ivy Chelsea Garden, London
Opened March 2015
The Ivy Café, Marylebone, London
Opened November 2015
The Ivy Kensington Brasserie, London
Opened December 2015
The Ivy Café, Wimbledon Village, London
Opened June 2016
The Ivy Clifton Brasserie, Bristol
Opened August 2016
The Ivy Café, St John's Wood, London
Opened October 2016
The Ivy Soho Brasserie, London
Opened February 2017
The Ivy Café, Richmond, London
Opened April 2017
The Ivy Marlow Garden, Berkshire
Opened May 2017
The Ivy Cobham Brasserie, Surrey
Opened June 2017
The Ivy City Garden, London
Opened June 2017
The Ivy Tower Bridge
Opened July 2017
The Ivy on the Square, Edinburgh
Opening September 2017
The Ivy Bath Brasserie
Opening October 2017
The Ivy Brasserie, York
Opening November 2017
The Ivy Brasserie, Guildford
Opening November 2017
The Ivy Brasserie, Cheltenham
Opening November 2017
The Ivy Brasserie, Harrogate
Opening November 2017
The Ivy Brasserie, Manchester
Opening Spring 2018
The Ivy Brasserie, Canary Wharf, London
Opening Summer 2018
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